website internationalisation best practice

The World Is Your Oyster: A Guide to Website Internationalisation Best Practices

The World Is Your Oyster: A Guide to Website Internationalisation Best Practices

Internationalisation is the process of optimising your website for different territories across the world. You might start with a UK-focused website, but international expansion means that you have to think about optimising your site for different languages and different audiences.

When it comes to internationalisation, there isn’t really one best practice route to take. Instead, you will have a series of decisions to make about how best to handle things. Here are just some of the things you will need to think about when taking your website global…

URL structure

When you want to get your website noticed on an international stage, it might mean making changes to your website URL structure. Your choices are:

  • Purchase a ccTLD (country code top-level domain) for each country. For example, www.auburn.fr for France
  • Create subdomains for each territory. For example de.auburn.co.uk for Germany
  • Create subdirectories for each territory. For example auburn.co.uk/es for Spain
  • Create a new domain. For example auburnusa.com for USA
  • Use URL parameters on a general top level domain. For example auburn.co.uk/?lang=fr-ca for French Canadians

There are many different things to consider when choosing which URL structure to use. For example, if you have a ccTLD such as .co.uk then it might be confusing to add a subdirectory to this.

Likewise, if you have a built a strong reputation on your original domain, then purchasing all new ccTLD for each country you plan to target will mean maintaining and updating each site individually.

So, what is the best solution?

It really depends on your budget and your capabilities to maintain multiple websites moving forward.

If you have a small budget and don’t want to spend a lot of time updating multiple different sites, the easiest option would be to translate your website and use URL parameters to specific different regions. You can also use subdomains or subdirectories to similar effect.

Which is best for SEO?

This depends on multiple factors. If your website is well established with a strong backlink profile, then starting again from scratch with a brand new ccTLD might be a step backwards. That said, every website has to start somewhere, and if you are committed to building a local presence then a ccTLD might be the best route.

If you do decide to purchase individual ccTLD for each country, then you need to be aware of the impact duplicate content can have on your website. While the myth that duplicate content will land you with a Google penalty has been largely squashed, it’s still the case that duplicate content can cause you problems in search. For this reason, you need to think about how you would manage duplicate content.

Above all else, you should aim to make your web presence clear to visitors. Would it be confusing to a visitor to see a subdomain for Australia on a website that ends with .co.uk?

Which is best for my customers?

In 2014, Moz conducted a study into perceptions of ccTLD. You can see the full study here, but the most interesting points to mention are that country codes are identifiable to the majority of internet users.

Before making any huge changes to your site, ask yourself if you really need a local presence. Alternatively, is translating the content to multiple languages enough to help your customers find what they need? Put your customers first and ask for their feedback on what would work best for them.

Should I use a translation plugin to translate my content?

We wouldn’t recommend it. While translation plugins might help you to get the general idea of what is going on, they are not advanced enough to be responsible for your website copy. If you don’t have the budget to hire a professional translator to translate your website copy, then it might not be the time to be thinking about taking your website global.

It might seem like a quick and easy shortcut to get your website online and targetting different languages. But can you imagine purchasing anything from a company that had clearly used a plugin to write their content?

Always find a native speaker who will be able to balance the subtle nuances to language. You don’t want to directly translate British idioms which will sound insane in another language.

Where do I begin?

If language is your primary reason for internationalisation, then ccTLD probably isn’t the best route. Instead, focus on developing content that is written with your target audience in mind. Don’t forget to translate the menu and enquiry forms.

If you are hoping to gain local search visibility in different countries, start with local keyword research to determine the demand. You can then replicate your website across to a new ccTLD, translate the content and start building local links to your new website.